Thinking beyond recycling

A new awareness campaign is highlighting the University’s efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and also encouraging students, faculty, and staff to think beyond recycling.

Running through Friday, Nov. 22, the three-week awareness and outreach “ReThink Your Footprint” campaign, launched by Penn’s Green Campus Partnership, aims to increase dialogue about waste management around the University, with the goal of diverting more campus waste from landfills.

“Every year, students are coming to Penn with a more sophisticated understanding of sustainability. Working on the Climate Action Plan since 2009, Penn has gotten more sophisticated with them,” says University Architect David Hollenberg. “Yes, we can recycle, but sustainability starts with having less waste overall—that’s the deeper message of this campaign.”

Penn already has a strong reputation as a leader in its trash, recycling, and other waste management practices; “ReThink Your Footprint” seeks to get the University community to pause and think critically about their environmental footprint, as well as draw attention to some of the initiatives Penn already has in place, says Dan Garofalo, environmental sustainability director for the Green Campus Partnership.

“It’s a challenge,” Garofalo says. “Minimizing waste takes a lot of behavioral changes, and it’s something that will take years.”

Garofalo says one waste minimization practice currently in action is an initiative spearheaded by Penn Purchasing Services and the University’s product suppliers, Office Depot and Telrose Corporation. By requiring  minimum purchase orders and replacing cardboard packaging with reusable delivery totes and paper bags, Penn has been able to significantly reduce its packaging waste.

“It’s a little counterintuitive—because we bring less cardboard packaging onto campus, we found that the amount of cardboard that we sent to recyclers was declining,” Garofalo says. “But in this case, the decline was a good thing because the new process represented less waste overall that we have to process. This moves us closer to our overall goal of reducing the amount of time, resources, and energy we spend handling waste.”

In addition, Penn’s Managed Print Services Program, offered to University departments through Purchasing Services, analyzes and manages document output devices, such as printers and copiers, throughout the University. After an overall assessment, departments receive recommendations for ways to improve overall efficiency and productivity, as well as tips to reduce electronic, paper, and plastic waste.

“During the ‘80s and ‘90s, everyone wanted a printer next to their desk, for confidentiality and convenience,” Garofalo says. “But the technology has caught up with this issue.”

“ReThink Your Footprint” also recommends a few innovative and team-building ideas for members of the Penn community who are looking to minimize waste on a smaller scale.

Suggestions include making small personal choices like carrying a reusable water bottle, taking advantage of double-sided printing, and composting at campus locations such as 1920 Commons and Joe’s Café.

Offices and departments can hold zero-waste meetings and events by using reusable materials such as cups, plates, and flatware, or by using a catering service that offers a compostable service package.

Facilities and Real Estate Services encourages departments to organize an Office Clean-out Day, where all team members put unused materials out to be shared, recycled, or submitted to BEN’s Attic, the University’s surplus property exchange site.

“Often college is the first place where students are coming and living on their own for the first time, and it’s exposing them to these great decision-making opportunities that could have an impact on their lifestyle,” says Sarah Fisher, sustainability strategic planning associate at the Green Campus Partnership. “That’s really an exciting opportunity.”

As the largest private employer in the city, Penn is poised to be an environmental leader in both the region and the far-reaching higher education community.

“Penn is a place of individual and academic freedom, and of self-determination. You can’t just tell people what to do,” Garofalo adds. “What ‘ReThink’ is doing is providing the opportunity for people to think critically—which is one of the missions of higher education—about their environmental footprint.”

For more information, a listing of “ReThink” Happenings, and ways to get involved with the campaign, visit the Green Campus Partnership website.